Take-charge guy Strano finds leadership dream

The following is from The Punxsutawney Spirit's “Where Are They Now?” series. The focus is to catch up with former Punxsy athletes to find out what made them a success growing up, and what they are doing today.

BAYTOWN, Texas — Bob Strano always wanted to be the guy in charge.

Even at a young age, back in junior-high, being a leader was his ultimate goal.

Strano, a 1966 Punxsutawney Area High School graduate, recently found a scrapbook from when he was an eighth-grader, and inside was what he wanted to be when he grew up.

"The emphasis was that I wanted to be a teacher and a coach," Strano said. "I was always the guy (in charge) when you picked teams on the playground. I always wanted to be the quarterback and the take-charge guy. I knew I wanted to be in charge of something."

Through the support he received from his parents at home as a child and the confidence he received as an athlete in Punxsutawney, Strano went on to earn what he said was "the greatest job in America."

But before obtaining that position, Strano accomplished a lot as an athlete in Punxsy.

Before he was a high schooler, he was able to play in Williamsport for the Pennsylvania state finals of Little League baseball. Through Little League — in which he was coached by his father, Angelo — he developed a winning mentality that led to many more victories in his future.

"I don't like to lose. I hate to lose to anybody," Strano said. "That was put in our heads back in Punxsutawney. We were trained to win."

Strano — who also went to the state finals in American Legion baseball — succeeded in both football and basketball as an underclassman, even though that wasn't common back then. Because Punxsutawney had so many talented athletes at every grade level, mostly juniors and seniors played varsity.

During his sophomore year on the gridiron, Strano said he intercepted a pass to save the game against Homer City, but he was later injured — something that stalled his career in football and basketball.

Still, during Strano's three high school football seasons — high school in Punxsy was just grades 10 through 12 back then — he played on teams that combined for a 28-2 record. He started his junior and senior years, only to break his shoulder during the second game of his senior year.

He couldn't play offensively, but that didn't limit his action on defense.

"I could play as a defensive back and delivered the blow with one arm," he said.

Though he couldn't play on both sides of the ball, his fondest memory at PAHS was playing football for the Chucks. He compared playing football in Punxsy during its heyday to New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who recently led his team to a 45-3 victory over the New York Jets on Monday Night Football.

"He had so much confidence, and he knows every time he plays that he has a shot to win the football game," Strano said. "The thing about Punxsutawney is that we were extremely confident. But we were that good in everything because we had such great coaches, and we had a great support mechanism.

"In Punxsutawney, in our eyes back then, we were the Steelers, and we were Penn State," he said.

Strano had received numerous college offers to play football before the injury, but those opportunities diminished once he broke his shoulder. He had plans to attend Slippery Rock University, but was later recruited to Southwestern College in Winfield, Kan., by former PAHS principal Tony Parise.

Punxsutawney had somewhat of a connection to Southwestern College, with John Mizerock — the father of Sarge Mizerock — attending the college. Strano's brother, Dick, also went to Southwestern.

"I really didn't want to go that far away, but it worked out great," Strano said. "I wasn't homesick one day."

During his time at Southwestern, he played football for four seasons as a tight end for a school that was top 10 in the nation under the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA).

The Moundbuilders were 30-6-2 during Strano's time at the college. When he played, teams didn't throw the ball often, which led to his catching between 40 to 45 passes in his career, he said.

He did well on the football field at Southwestern — just a few weeks ago, Strano was inducted into the college's Athletic Hall of Fame — but later became more well-known because of his leadership in the Leavenworth Public School District of Leavenworth, Kan.

Upon graduation in 1970 with a degree in elementary education, Strano remained in the Kansas area, quickly leaping into an elementary classroom/physical education teaching position in Leavenworth at Lincoln/North Broadway Elementary, where he began to build his career.

Four years later, he was the assistant principal at the school, and six years after that, he became the school's principal. His move upward through the school district hit its peak when 15 years after starting as a teacher in Leavenworth, he became the director of activities of the Leavenworth Public Schools — a position he held for 21 years.

The position included more than being an athletic director. He also was the director of debate, speech, drama and maintenance, among others.

Today, at 62, Strano is a sales representative for Beynon Sports Surfaces, which creates synthetic surfaces at various high-level universities and high schools all over the country, including the University of Oregon, University of Oklahoma and Penn State University. Strano started a part-time position with the company after his retirement from Leavenworth.

Strano's parents, Angelo (91) and Sophia (87) still live in Punxsutawney. He said that both still head down to Punxsy Phil's every Sunday for breakfast.

Strano and his wife, Tamra — who now life in Baytown, Texas — have two daughters who are in their 30s — Jodi and Mandy — who Strano said were both excellent volleyball players. He also has three grandchildren who are ages six, two and one.

From 1985-2007, Strano spent some of the best years of his life as the director of activities in Leavenworth. Leavenworth High School won 16 state titles in his 21 years.

But what Strano was remembered for most at Leavenworth were the six sportsmanship awards that the school earned at the state level.

Strano displayed a great deal of sportsmanship and community spirit during his time in Leavenworth while working in a position that was a dream job.

"I had the greatest job in America — director of activities," Strano said. "If somebody said, 'Would you change something?' I don't know anything that I would change."